Bipolar Disorder, One Of The Most Stigmatized Mental Health Issues
While there is still a lot of stigma about mental health in the United States, we have made some progress in recognizing people struggles in a more open, supportive, and accepting way.
It’s not uncommon for people to mention their
therapists, being in counseling, doing marriage counseling, etc. Friends and family often assume others might be seeking counseling due to some rather mundane problems, perhaps something that’s a specific cause of stress or a once in a lifetime event. They may also look at it as somebody trying to make personal growth, not that they are “mentally ill”, “crazy”, or on the brink of divorce. Friends and family can even be accepting of issues like anxiety or depression, which we now understand to be very common. This is all fantastic, and shows how much our society has grown and opened up around mental health.
Except Bipolar Disorder
However, there remain certain mental health problems that people are wary of. Probably the best example is bipolar disorder. The very mention of it elicits suspicion. When most people hear of bipolar disorder, they think of people in delusional maniacal states, believing they are prophets, running through the streets naked, or becoming violent and scary. While this is certainly possible, it’s on the relatively rare end of the spectrum of this common mood disorder.
Bipolar disorder is hidden in secrecy, even from family members. Forget about mentioning common medications for bipolar disorder, like lithium or antipsychotics. The names of these drugs alone evoke fear, even though antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications come with their own side effects and risks.
Not What You Think
In fact, most people who experience the manic “high” of bipolar disorder are doing it in much more discreet ways. They’re spending money excessively, gambling, getting involved in sexual indiscretions, not sleeping much, talking quickly, having racing thoughts, or overworking. Most of us wouldn’t even notice these signs unless we were close to the person or a trained mental health professional.
Another thing most people do not realize about bipolar disorder is that the most common mood is actually depression. The manic states tend to be few and far between, especially as people get older. This is actually the most dangerous time for people with bipolar disorder as they can become suicidal.
Another large issue with bipolar disorder is that it’s under diagnosed, especially in its less visible versions. Many people today feel we are over diagnosing and medicating mental health issues; a questionable belief, perhaps the result of residual stigma. Bipolar disorder certainly doesn’t belong in in this category because it is much more common than people realize. As many as one in fifty people may have varying degrees of it. Most people who have bipolar disorder are not aware they have it. Diagnosis and treatment is even more important because it responds very well to medication. Without medication, it tends to get worse as people age, which is unnecessary if they had proper medication as well as good lifestyle habits.
If we are going to make progress in mental health, it’s important we remove stigma from this common, genetically based mental health problem and encourage treatment and support, not secrecy and fear.